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I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Burn Baby Burn Chapter Three 3877 words

See chapter one for disclaimers. This is raw first draft. Still, I hope you find it interesting.

Nothing rots here. I’m not sure time passes at the same rate. I look out a the ring, like a miniature Saturn, made of junk and carrion, and wonder if we’re in orbit. There are no stars against which to measure our movement. I can make out only the slightest changes in the light that hint we’re in motion.

I’ve found three different clocks. All were electric. It’s a shame I never got my hands on an hour glass. But then, what could I prove. Perhaps the passing of an hour here measures eons elsewhere.

I had plenty of chances to swallow the one man who might have been able to dope this out.

Life is full of missed opportunities.

Chapter Three
A Leg to Stand On

Sunday pulled her rented Toyota Camry into the parking lot of the Post Office in Georgetown, South Carolina. It was November 11, and this was the next to last town on the contact list. Long before they’d been blamed for destroying Jerusalem, Rex Monday had told them that there might come a time when they would have to lay low. He’d told Sunday not to think of hiding and waiting as a form of retreat. In asymmetrical warfare, not attacking was a legitimate strategy. While you conserve your strength, the enemy must spend more and more resources to less and less effect. The resources required to scan ten million suitcases for bombs cost exactly the same if there are no bombs as they would if there were a thousand. In fact, no bombs can be an even greater weapon than a thousand bombs. If even one bomb a month were discovered at an airport, the level of vigilance would remain high. No one would question the value of the resources spent. But, if no bombs turn up year after year, complacency sets in. The public begins to view safety as a burden imposed upon them rather than a right they are entitled to. Political rifts form over the wisdom of the money spent to protect citizens from a seemingly imaginary foe.
Sunday was early. They weren’t supposed to meet at the post office box until 11:11am. Pit Geek still had ten minutes to arrive, assuming he was still alive. He hadn’t made it to the check point last year in Vegas.
Georgetown was about as different from Vegas as you could get. It was a small town that prided itself on a lot of old buildings. Sunday wasn’t particularly impressed by three hundred year old bricks or graveyards filled with towering oaks draped with Spanish moss. She did appreciate, however, that Monday had arranged their check-ins in towns with significant tourist populations. Georgetown was on the South Carolina coast at about the midpoint between Myrtle Beach and Charleston. A steady stream of visitors stopped into the downtown to browse the various antique stores and partake of the local eateries. Though she was a stranger in town, no one would give her a second glance.
She got out of the car at 11:10. Pit Geek was almost certainly dead, assuming he could die. She would miss him. Though she’d found him physically repulsive, she’d enjoyed his dry sense of humor and his curiously convoluted moral code. He was a cold-blooded killer who would murder a man for looking at him funny, and in the time she’d known him she’d witnessed him slaughter women and children without hesitation. It was difficult to reconcile this with the man who’d grabbed Rex Monday’s arm to stop him from beating her. She’d asked about it once. He’d shrugged like the question didn’t make sense. “A job’s a job and a war’s a war,” he’d said. “But I’ve never had a stomach for bullies.”
She went into the post office and fit the key into box 111. Inside was a pink slip informing her she had a package at the window. The line was ten people deep. She sighed, and took her place in the queue. For not the first time, she thought about disobeying her father’s orders. She could just kill everyone in the building and grab the package, then fly off and be in the Bahamas by nightfall. But, no, she was laying low. She was in hiding.
A little girl about four years old was in line in front of her, with her mother, a heavy set black woman in twenties. The little girl stared at Sunday’s ankles. Then she announced, “She’s got a robot leg.”
Sunday felt everyone’s eyes turn toward her. She was wearing pants, but no socks, and her c-leg was showing where it fit into her deck shoes. Just above the shoe little more showed than a slender silver rod. She’d lost her leg at the battle of Jerusalem, and had been wearing the prosthetic so long she sometimes forgot about it.
“Don’t be rude,” said the mother to the little girl. She gave Sunday an apologetic glance. “Kids,” she said, as if this were enough explanation.
Behind the counter, Sunday noticed one of the postal workers disappear into an office.
One drawback of Rex Monday’s advance planning was that checking their annual instructions required that they go into buildings where their pictures hung on the wall as part of the FBI’s most wanted fugitive’s list. Luckily for her, she had the sort of face that people didn’t dwell on. So many Hispanic immigrants had flooded into the southern US in the last twenty years that her dark skin tone didn’t merit a second glance. Her eyebrows were a bit thicker than most women’s, but aside from this her face was rather unremarkable. Pretty, but a bit bland. In the one good picture the FBI had of her, she’d been sporting a nose-ring and gone heavy on the mascara that day. She’d gotten rid of the nose ring almost a decade ago, and didn’t even own make up any more. She’d discovered that this rendered her almost invisible.
And then there was the leg. Thanks to the various wars they’d help set in motion, the number of veterans sporting artificial limbs was swelling by thousands each year. Still, there were far more men than women with artificial limbs. The leg was still enough to make authorities give her a second glance.
She kept watching the office as the line kept forward. She glanced around at the surveillance cameras. She glanced down at the package slip. After so many years with no word from her father, was it suspicious that this slip turned up now? Was this a set up? If they had captured Pit Geek, would he have told them the rendezvous times and places?
She made it to the counter. She traded her slip for a box roughly the size of a toaster oven.
She left the Post Office with as casual a pace as she could muster. What the hell was in the box? Were her years of hiding finally at an end?
There was now a pickup truck parked beside her Camry. The sunlight on the windshield hid the drivers face, but she could tell from his silhouette that he was watching her. Then the door swung open, and the ugliest man she’d ever seen stepped out. And then, at a second glance, she recognized him.
“Pete!” she exclaimed, running toward him.
He furrowed his brow. “Am I Pete?”
She drew within an arm’s length and said, “You are in public. People look at you funny if I call you ‘Pit.’ Not that people aren’t going to look at you funny with your face messed up like this. Get in the car before people start talking.”
Pit started to get back into his truck. She grabbed his arm. “No, you idiot. My car. I’ve checked it for tracers. You didn’t do that on your truck, did you?”
“How the hell would I know what a tracer looked like?” Pit asked as she dragged him to the Camry. She opened the passenger door and shoved him in, then threw the package into the back seat. As it left her fingers, she wondered if it might be some sort of doomsday device more deserving of delicate treatment. When the world failed to end by the time she closed the door, she relaxed. Two minutes later, they were at the Georgetown town limits, not due to any particularly breakneck speed she was setting, but because Georgetown just wasn’t that big.
“Where the hell have you been?” she asked. “What happened to your face?”
“I’ve been lots of places,” Pit said. “I don’t remember them all. I kind of remember holding the right half of my head in my hands then jamming it back on. I think I may have jumped into some helicopter blades. Look before you leap. Good advice.”
“How did you remember to come here today?”
Pit shrugged. “Dunno. My brain is still kind of splicing itself back together. Sometimes I know stuff without knowing why I know it. I knew I had to be at the Georgetown Post Office on November 11 at 11:11. Couldn’t remember if it was a.m. or p.m. Took a guess.”
“Do you remember my father? Rex Monday?”
Pit frowned. “He was that terrorist guy in the news a few years back. Whatever happened to him?”
“We don’t know what happened to him. That’s the point of us meeting at different post offices every year. We’re waiting for further instructions from him.”
“Oh,” said Pit. He gave her a long stare. “I know I know you. I remember… you carried me around in … I dunno… a basket? Like a baby? Are you… are you my mother?”
She gave him a sideways glance. “You’re joking, right?”
“I look older than you, so it doesn’t make sense. But… I was little.”
“You were decapitated at the battle of Jerusalem. A hand grenade blew your body into hamburger but your head bounced free. You were still alive. It took you months to regrow your body. For a long time, I was carrying your head around in a cooler. Later, when you had a little toddler body and a full sized head, we did use a baby carriage. But once you could walk, we went our separate ways. We were a much more valuable target together than apart.”
Pit nodded. “I was shot in the neck and chest a little over a month ago. It hurt, but now I just have little scars left. Do you know why I can heal from stuff like this?”
“No. And for what it’s worth, you didn’t know why you couldn’t die when I first met you, almost ten years ago. Your memory’s been crap the whole time I know you. You seem to have a talent for head injuries.”
Pit looked out the window. “Maybe I was born this way. Maybe I’ve always been stupid.”
“Maybe,” said Sunday. It wasn’t her responsibility to cheer Pit up.
“So,” he said. “You got a name?”
“My code name was Sundancer. You used to call me Sunny. But my given name is Sunday.”
Pit looked skeptical.
“What?” she asked.
“Your name is Sunday Monday?”
She sighed. They had a long drive ahead of them.

By the time they’d reached Virginia, she felt less paranoid. She assumed that no one at the Post Office had deduced that the twenty-five year old Hispanic woman with the c-leg was the same twenty-five year old Hispanic woman with a c-leg who was wanted from a long list of crimes against humanity. In a way, she felt contempt that she hadn’t been found out. It wasn’t difficult to hide in plain sight. Most American’s were too busy staring at their cell phones to pay any attention to the wanted criminals who moved among them.
They checked into a motel room in Petersburg, Virginia. It was a no-name, mom and pop place that didn’t bat an eye when she’d paid in cash. In what was likely pure coincidence, they were given room 11.
Pit closed the door behind them as Sunday placed the package on the bed. She carefully removed the tape and opened the cardboard, revealing a block of Styrofoam. She slid this out of the box and pulled the too halves apart.
Inside was a gun about eighteen inches long that looked as if it had been designed for a Star Wars movie. It was made of almost as much glass as metal. The side of the barrel was covered in vents. Where the trigger should be, there was a round, flat button.
“I bet it’s some kind of death ray,” said Pit. “Wasn’t the boss always talking about a death ray?”
“Nope. He used to say that he didn’t need a death ray because he had me,” said Sunday.
Pit’s eyes lit up. “Yeah. You … you shoot out fire from your hands. And you can fly. I remember now.”
There was a note in the box.
My teleportation belt wasn’t a complete waste after all. Presenting the Regeneration Ray! May you always have a leg to stand on.
Then, a postscript: P.S. War is over.
“War is over?” she muttered.
“What war?” asked Pit.
She read him the note.
“What war?” he asked again.
“How can you not remember?” she asked. “We were branded terrorists because we were trying to topple the governments of the world.”
“Which ones?”
“All of them,” said Sunday. “The entire world was corrupted by the machinations of my father’s enemies. There was no hope of repairing it piecemeal. We had to cripple every last remnant of the old order so that my father could finally become the true Rex Mundi.”
Pit nodded. “Yeah. Sure. Didn’t… did we tear down the Washington Monument?”
“And… and the Twin Towers?”
“Not us, actually.”
“Jerusalem? We destroyed it?”
“Took the blame for it, at least. Technically, one of the good guys did the real damage. A nasty little bitch named Rail Blade. But, she’s either dead now or in a secret prison rotting away. She’s been missing as long as we have.”
Pit sat on the edge of his bed. “So. We were bad people.”
“We were revolutionaries. We were fighting for a cause.”
“I think we should have stuck to robbing banks.”
“I’ve never robbed a bank in my life,” said Sunday. She was actually a little offended by the suggestion. She was a soldier, not a thief.
“Don’t sound so judgmental,” said Pit. “I’ve been robbing convenience stores and bars the last month while waiting for you to show up. It’s practically honest work compared to blowing up cities.”
Sunday sighed. “Maybe I shouldn’t be so closed minded. When dad disappeared, I went to live on his yacht in Bermuda. He had two million in cash in the safe. But… it’s been ten years, and I’m down to my last thousand bucks. I was really hoping the box would be filled with hundred dollar bills.” She picked up the gun. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this thing?”
“The letter said it was for your leg.”
“Not quite.”
“It’s a regeneration ray. What else are you supposed to use it for?”
“I’m not shooting myself in the leg with some mystery ray gun that turned up in the mail. What if it’s a trap by one of our enemies to neutralize our power?”
“Use it on me,” said Pit.
She eyed his face. She raised the gun. For a moment, she hesitated. What if this was a trap? Would she blow his brains out with this thing? She’d killed a lot of people, but could she really shoot the one person left on earth who was sort of, kind of, just a little bit, her friend? She closed her eyes and pulled the trigger.
The gun spoke. “X-ray analysis of DNA commencing.”
She opened her eyes. A tight green laser beam formed a dot in the middle of Pit Geek’s brow. “Analysis finished. Calculating age.” Now a blue dot appeared on his forehead. “Analysis inconclusive. The median male age of 35.5 will be approximated. Beginning tissue deconstruction.”
Then, exactly the thing that Sunday had feared came true. Pit Geeks face simply vaporized, revealing mangled bones beneath. But, she held her aim steady as the gun continued to speak. “Repairing underlying structures.” One by one, the bones of his skull began to shift and crawl back into alignment. His gray, gnarled teeth faded out one by one into mists of static, only to reform an instant later as healthy white enamel. “Underlying structures repaired. Commencing tissue reconstruction.”
The effect was very much like something from Star Trek. The air in front of Pit Geek’s skull begin to shimmer with bright yellow sparkles. Then a ghostly face appeared over his restored skull, gradually growing more and more dense, until suddenly Pit Geek was whole once more.
“Holy shit,” said Sunday. “It worked.”
“Did it?” said Pit, feeling his face. “I don’t feel different. Still can’t remember more than little fragments.”
“It fixed your face, not your brain,” said Sunday. “I think it read your DNA, figured out what you were supposed to look like, then built you a new face. I don’t think memories could be fixed by giving you a new brain. In fact, it would probably wipe them out.”
Pit Geek stood up and went to the mirror.
“Who the hell…?” he mumbled. His jaw went slack. He raised his hand to touch his scalp, which was now covered in thick dark curls. He ran his finger along his brow, where his face hadn’t quite meshed up before. The skin was smooth, free of wrinkles. The DNA reset had, for some reason, left him with eyebrows, but had rebuilt the rest of his face without even the hint of a five o’clock shadow.
“I look like a movie star,” he said, his voice distant.
Sunday wouldn’t go that far. His eyes were still kind of beady, and his nose was slightly to big. But, the ray had taken at least twenty years off his face. Not to mention at least a quarter inch of grime.
He must have been noticing the same thing. “Aw hell,” he said. “I’ll have to start washing my face now. It’s like having a new car. You gotta wash it every week.”
“Some people wash their face every day, you know.”
He chuckled. “Ma’am, that ain’t the cowboy way.”
“You were a cowboy?” she asked.
He frowned. “Was I a cowboy?”
He turned to her. “Take off your pants. Let’s fix your leg.”
She stood, pausing for a second as she fumbled with her belt. Why was she hesitant? She used to burn her clothes off all the time as Sundancer. Pit Geek had seen her naked a hundred times or more. But, before, he’d just been this dirty zombie coot with the unexplained ability to swallow anything that got near his mouth. Until this moment, she’d never thought of him as a man. Like, a man man. Who might find pleasure in seeing her with no clothes on.
Sunday frowned. Where was this bourgeoisie modesty suddenly coming from? She’d shaken off the last remnants of those old values long, long ago. Letting out her breath, she dropped her pants.
She looked toward him. “Are you leering at me?”
He shrugged. “You’ve filled out since I last saw you.”
“Are you saying I’m fat?”
“No! Hell no. You are a damn fine looking woman. With hip like those, you could be a high dollar prostitute. I can’t wait to see you with both legs”
She sat on the edge of the bed and removed her c-leg.
“You know I lost my leg from a hand grenade that you threw, right?” she asked. “You still owe me big time.”
“Wah, wah, wah,” said Pit Geek. “You lost a leg. I came out of that battle as a head in a cooler. We all have our sob stories.”
Perhaps it was Sunday’s imagination, but Pit seemed… feistier than he had five minutes ago. Maybe the ray had affected his brain? Or maybe having a good looking face was making him cocky?
“Okay,” she said. “Do it.”
So he did it. The laser ran along the stub of her limb just below the knee. The machine ran through the same pattern as before. It correctly pegged her age as twenty five. When the underlying structures were rebuilt, she watched with fascination as bones began to materialize from thin air. She wondered where the calcium to build them was coming from. With Pit Geek, matter had simply been rearranged. Here, something new was being built. Was it her imagination, or was her whole body tingling? Was the ray stealing material from the rest of her? But she had no time to ponder. As the flesh and muscles faded back into their proper place, waves of pain rushed through her as the newly formed nerves knitted themselves back into her nervous system. The pain made her vision blur and left a metallic taste n her mouth.
Then the pain was gone, and she had a new leg. Like Pit’s face, the leg was hairless. She frowned. It didn’t match her other leg at all.
“Did it think I was white?” she asked, staring at the almost milky hue of her new limb.
“Ah, you just need a tan,” said Pit Geek. “It looks a hell of a lot better than that bionic woman crap you were hopping around on. Be happy.”
“A: I wasn’t hopping. Most people didn’t even notice the leg was artificial. B: I don’t really do happy. Happy is for people who aren’t at war.”
“We aren’t at war. The boss says it’s over.”
“But we haven’t won!” Sunday clenched her fists tightly.
“Ain’t we? You seen the headlines lately? The world seems like it’s right on the edge of falling apart.”
“If it’s on the edge, we should push it!” said Sunday.
“Or… here me out here… or we could just rob some banks.”
“What is it with you and banks?” she asked, shaking her heads.
“How can you not know this?” said Pit. “Banks is where the monies at.”
Sunday stared at her new leg. In addition to a tan, what it really, really needed was a nice pair of shoes.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s try things your way for a change. Let’s rob some banks!”
Pit Geek held the gun toward an imaginary bank teller. “Hand over the money!” he said, then laughed. “Man, I bet this thing will scare the pants off of folks.”
Sunday laughed, a sound she hadn’t made in several years.
“Did you just laugh?” Pit Geek sounded astonished.
She shrugged. “Just, well, what you said just struck me as funny, considering I’m sitting her in my panties.”
“So you are,” said Pit, stepping toward her bed.
She lifted a glowing finger. “And I can still vaporize flesh.”
“So you can,” said Pit, dropping onto the other bed. “Man. Robbing banks. Just like the old days.”
“We never robbed banks in the old days,” said Sunday.
Pit went silent as he stared at the ceiling. “And I’m pretty sure we did it on horseback,” he whispered.

3877 words

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